TOKYO • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's support ratings have recovered to the 50 per cent level, a poll has shown, helped by public jitters over North Korea's missile and nuclear tests and by disarray in the main opposition party.
Results of a Sept 8-10 survey by the Yomiuri newspaper released yesterday put support for Mr Abe's administration at 50 per cent, up 8 points from the previous month.
Mr Abe's support had fallen below 30 per cent in some polls in July, hit by suspected cronyism scandals and perceptions among voters that he had become arrogant after more than four years in office.
His ratings improved slightly after a Cabinet reshuffle early last month. Since then, the news has been dominated by rising regional tensions over North Korea's ballistic missile tests, including one that flew over northern Japan.
Mr Abe has spoken to US President Donald Trump by phone numerous times, seeking to demonstrate that the Washington-Tokyo alliance is firm.
Pyongyang last week carried out its sixth and biggest nuclear test and Japan's Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera has warned that more provocations could be in store after the United Nations Security Council stepped up sanctions, imposing a ban on North Korea's textile exports and capping its crude oil imports.
Mr Abe told reporters yesterday: "Japan also wants to take leadership to change North Korea's policies while coordinating closely with other countries."
Political science professor Koichi Nakano of Sophia University said that with Parliament in recess, Mr Abe was "able to use the 'crisis' in North Korea to monopolise the spotlight by getting the media to portray him as a strong leader".
Japan's opposition Democratic Party, meanwhile, failed to improve its ratings after the election last month of a new leader, former foreign minister Seiji Maehara.
The Democrats also face likely defections to an embryonic party that allies of popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, a former ruling party lawmaker, are trying to form.
Sixty per cent of voters did not hold hopes for Mr Maehara's leadership, compared to 33 per cent who did. Support for his party languished at 5 per cent versus 40 per cent for Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, the Yomiuri said.
Reflecting Ms Koike's popularity, the yet-to-be-launched "Japan First" party fared better, with 41 per cent expressing hopes for the new group.
Whether Mr Abe can maintain the gains in popularity remains to be seen. "The scandals have not gone away and in a couple of weeks, Abe will have to convene the Diet... so the recovery in support levels may well turn out to be temporary," Professor Nakano said.